Do your students do homework? Do they know how to get help on homework? Most likely … no to both questions. After trying other steps over the years, I am trying an invasive tool this semester: Every student must take homework to a source of help on campus during the first week of the semester; they get a faculty member signature on a quick little form, and get 10 points for completing this.
Some interesting problems arose very quickly. Several students asked “What is the homework?” This might seem like an odd question, until you think about it from their point of view. Most math books have reading, examples, section problems, chapter problems, review problems and more … some texts have ‘margin’ problems (or equivalent). In my beginning algebra class, students were having a difficult time discriminating among these components — and a difficult time generalizing these in to a category called ‘homework’. My students were thinking that ‘homework’ meant the written steps they did for a set of problems on one page (similar to the section problems); I was thinking of homework as being any and all of these components.
“Getting help” holds some mysteries for our students. Without direction from faculty, students may not not see the sources of help as being a resource for them to use; one of my students reported that she is repeating the course because she waited until the last two weeks of the semester to get help. We might think that “I am not passing” would be a strong enough message to go get some help, but this does not work out for many students. For whatever reasons, there seems to be a large social gap between students and the sources of help that will get them through their course.
If you are curious, my experiment with requiring students to get help in the first week is working well. Some of the students are getting comfortable with the process of getting help as a result. For others, this process also helps uncover misunderstandings about what ‘homework’ means. The number of points (10 for the assignment, out of 1000 for the course) is high compared to the effort, which makes the assignment more tolerable for students. The sources of help available include my office hours (not during class time), our campus tutoring office, and the math department help room.
I encourage you to not assume that students will get help when needed. Look for ways to require students to get help, especially in developmental and gateway courses.
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